Quran & Democracy
Are they compatible?
Thursday September 22nd, 2005, by Muhammed Asadi
What has happened in modern bureaucratic societies, that parade as democracies (like the USA), is that the chance to reason and the ability to be free has been lost (see http://robots.asadi.org) that is the nature of a bureaucratic society: a society where standardization is the norm and the person is surrounded by rules that govern behavior from birth to death. Such “democracies” exists in form only and not in essence, here choices are not formulated by a “public” but rather insinuated upon a highly propagandized “mass society” that knows next to nothing regarding public issues. This is achieved by control of the “cultural apparatus” by a small aristocracy, the Power Elite. The “cultural apparatus”- language, education, status and technology- with the media and the formal educational institutions playing a dominant role, thus ensures that this elite achieves cultural hegemony. The person thinks he or she is free and living under a “democracy” but the reality of the situation is much different.
A democratic society assumes an “informed” public, as against a propagandized “mass society”. Those in a “mass society” have their hopes and aspirations conditioned by what others have told them and unconsciously acquired habits based upon such conditioning. Those in a public formulate their values and choices themselves based on substantive reason, as C. Wright Mills explained in the 1950s and as the Quran made clear fourteen centuries back: “Say: Are those who know and those who do not know alike?” (Quran 39:9)
Under a system where the “mass society” has not yet gained enough information to make choices, to transform itself into a “public”, democracy in essence is impossible. Hence the Quranic statement: “And if you obey the majority of those on earth they will lead you astray; that is because they follow conjecture, and that is because they only guess” (Quran 6:116). A “majority of those on earth” does not constitute an “informed Islamic public” and never will (according to the Quranic statement). Further we are told: “None can inform you like the one who is aware” (Quran 35:14), a similar recommendation is the case with Quran 25:59.
Once we have a semblance of a “public” emerging, as happened after the first community of Muslims emerged out of the previously existing “mass society” in Arabia (Quran 3:110), even the prophet was told to: “. consult with them upon the conduct of affairs.” (Quran 3:159). We are also told how the process of governance is to be conducted in a society of similar publics: “And whose rule is based upon consultation (Shura) among themselves” (Quran 42:38). This consultation (Shura) is to be totally in the public record and not secret (Quran 58:10). Therefore, we can conclude that an Islamic society would have a counsel where the public consults with the decision makers, the decision makers would be the ones “who know” (as deduced above) i.e. are qualified in the area in which they are making decisions. The decision makers would be numerous, unless one person claims to know everything in all fields, which is impossible. A counsel of intellectuals with no limit to their numbers that are in constant touch with the public and consult with them is thus the Islamic form of government. This would be democracy in essence, since the entire society including the decision makers would have equal status and would participate in the decision making process. The criteria for assigning status in such a society would not be material possessions rather it would be the level of social consciousness that an individual possesses (see Quran 49:13).
The framework under which decisions are to be made would be the Quran (see 6:114 etc), and specifically its “mohkam” (or standard setting) statements (see Quran 3:7). These standard setting statements are called the “mother of the book” (Ummul Kitaab) in the Quran (Quran 3:7). Based upon these verses not only are our new laws going to be interpreted but also the other verses of the Quran itself, “the motashabey” (the allegorical or consimilar). The “mohkam” verses number a lot less than the entire Quran, therefore the amount of freedom that the Quran grants us is much greater than any that is granted by a bureaucratized society, where laws govern every aspect of life. What traditionalists have done is to canonize their own (extra Quranic) laws as a bureaucratized form of “Islam”, this is exactly what the Quran warns against (Quran 42:21), because this not only stifles reason but prevents freedom in that it reduces the “consultation” part of governance and does not take into consideration the historical era and the social structure that exists in that era.
The Quran thus grants greater freedom and the resulting ability to reason compared to any (bureaucratized) system that exists in the current epoch: “Those who avoid the greater (Kabair) crimes and shameful deeds…” (Quran 42:37). The greater crimes are less than a handful and can be extracted from Quran’s description of crimes, those are the only ones we are told to avoid. Here the Quran is not concerned about the smaller details that keep the traditionalist “Islamic scholars” busy, even as they ignore the bigger public issues that are causing great problems among humankind. A truly Islamic society would be one in which freedom and reason flourishes and laws are minimal, it would be a truly democratic society, where democracy is practiced in essence and not just by slogan. Hence, the purpose and judgment of life based upon choice “…to determine which of you is best in deeds.” (Quran 67:2).